Looking back on my anxiety recovery journey, there are so many things I would've done differently! So today I want to share the 5 biggest things I'd do differently, knowing what I know now. A big reason why I’m sharing these things with you is because they are also pieces of wisdom that I wish I had back when I was struggling. I truly believe that with a little more knowledge and insight, my journey would've been a lot less long and hard! So I hope that what I share with you today will make your journey less long and less hard.
Alright, so you know when you come out the other side of something and think… Wow, I made that so incredibly hard on myself. Why didn’t I just do that? What was I thinking? Why did I keep doing that? Why didn’t I stop doing that? I mean, the list goes on!
And this is mostly because things are much clearer once you’ve lived it and you’ve gone through the lessons, right? And although the lessons suck when you’re in them, if you pay attention, the lessons and knowledge you gain are what will help you to continuously shift and move towards healing. They help you to stop, check in with yourself, and start doing things a little differently.
And unfortunately, it’s typically the hardest lessons in which we learn the most valuable insights that stick (and ultimately shift) us with a type of force that helps us to take different actions than we've ever taken before, and not revert back to unhealthy habits that have clearly done nothing but make the journey even harder.
A big key in the recovery journey is developing an awareness... An awareness of the decisions you’re making, how they’re impacting you and your recovery, and what the lessons you’re facing are trying to show and teach you. And if you pay attention and start to develop an awareness and get curious, you’ll begin to make decisions that will push you towards the path that will lead to lots of healing without it taking so long and without it being so difficult.
Alright, let’s dive into the things I’d do differently if I could go back!
5 Things I'd Do Differently During The Anxiety Recovery Journey
1. I Would've Stopped Trying So Hard To Fight My Anxious Thoughts and Feelings
I used to struggle with anxious thoughts, symptoms, and panic attacks every day. And when I’d have an anxious thought or experience a symptom or panic, my immediate reaction was to try to make the thoughts and feelings go away, and I’d do this by either fighting them or running from them.
Sometimes I’d sometimes literally tell myself, Shannon, you can’t feel this way! So I’d try to ignore how I felt by literally telling myself… You’re not anxious, you’re okay. Looking back, I can’t believe that this was my response! But I truly didn’t know what else to do, I just wanted the thoughts and feelings to go away and so I’d try to suppress them.
I’d also try to fight my thoughts and feelings and make them go away, and sometimes I’d do this by literally pinching my skin or grabbing my arm, leg, or hand tightly in an effort to cause my body to register any other feeling than anxiety or the symptoms that I was experiencing. Yeah, this didn’t work!
Many people have shared with me that they also try anything and everything in an effort to make anxious thoughts and feelings go away. Whether it’s using essential oils, sour candies, water, ice, or CBD, the list goes on! Or maybe it’s seeking reassurance, looking for a safe person, or getting out of the place or situation that you think is causing the anxiety.
And we do all of these things because we’re scared of how the anxious thoughts, sensations, symptoms, and panic might make us feel. We don’t want to feel them so we fight and we try to run from them.
But here’s the thing… Fighting your anxious thoughts and feelings is sending the signal to your brain that you’re not safe and in danger, which just isn’t true. And trying to run from your anxious thoughts and feelings is also sending the signal to your brain that you’re not safe and in danger, which isn’t true.
The part that I was always skipping over was the most critical and the hardest… Allowing myself to acknowledge my anxious thoughts and feelings and allowing myself to feel them. This means not trying to fight, run, suppress, or ignore. This means facing and allowing. Sounds terrible, huh? Trust me, I get it! But the truth is, facing, feeling, and allowing is what helps the anxious thoughts, the symptoms, and panic to start showing up less and less. It’s what teaches your brain that you’re safe and not in danger.
2. I Would've Practiced Healthy Habits and Helpful Tools In Moments of Calm, Not Just When I Felt Anxious.
Tell me if this sounds familiar… You feel anxious or you’re experiencing a panic attack and you find yourself frantically practicing a breathing exercise, or some form of mindfulness, or a grounding technique, all in an attempt to relieve the anxious feelings. But they’re not always so effective in these moments because you’re either using them to make the anxious feelings go away, or you simply don’t have enough practice.
As you learned just a minute ago, it’s important not to try to make your anxious thoughts and feelings go away. Remember, you have to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and allow yourself to feel them. Trying to make your anxious thoughts and feelings go away, even with healthy tools, isn’t gonna do the trick!
The reality is that the anxious thoughts and feelings you’ve been experiencing over time have been reinforced with lots of unhealthy habits, and so it’s going to take time practicing the healthy habits to undo the unhealthy ones and to create new and healthy pathways that don’t always have you going straight to anxiety and panic every time you feel the slightest bit off.
This means practicing healthy habits and the tools daily. Yes, daily! Because when you only use them when you feel anxious, it’s a little too late. Your brain hasn’t had enough practice with taking healthy action. This is why it’s so important to take small, healthy steps every single day and to practice the habits and tools that will support you when those anxious moments happen.
3. I Would've Regularly Acknowledged My Strengths and Ability To Work Through Hard Things.
So often I looked outside of myself in anxious moments. I looked to the tools, or to others, and I rarely (if ever) looked inward and reminded myself of just how capable I was of working through hard things. I rarely ever gave myself the opportunity to work through hard moments on my own.
One of my big go-to’s was reassurance seeking. Whenever I felt anxious or panicky, I’d immediately pick up the phone and call my mom or Adam. And if one didn’t answer, I’d call the other one. Whether I felt anxious in a store, at work, or driving, I’d call one of them and just ask that they talk to me because I was convinced that I couldn’t get through the anxious moment on my own. And unfortunately, by doing this, I was reinforcing the idea that I was in danger and also that I wasn’t capable of working through it on my own.
But the truth was, I always had. Sure, my mom or Adam might have been on the other end of the phone, but they ultimately weren’t the ones that worked through the anxiety and panic… I was.
And when I began pausing before calling my mom or Adam, and instead giving myself an opportunity to work through the anxious moment on my own, it was like I discovered just how powerful I was. I discovered that I had what it took to overcome the anxious moments. And by pausing and looking inward, I slowly began to undo the notion that I was in danger, which led to the stress response showing up less and less.
4. I Would've Shared What I Was Struggling With Rather Than Hiding It From Everyone.
When I started sharing that I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, I remember a couple of my friends saying that they had no idea. They were genuinely surprised. And I wasn’t shocked by this because I put on a pretty good front! On the outside, it almost always seemed as though I had it all together. I went to work and school, went out with friends, and never had major freak-out's in front of people like I often feared.
But there was so much that I was hiding, mostly because I carried a lot of shame and embarrassment. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was struggling with, even those who I was close to, for fear that they’d judge me, think that I was crazy and weak, and they’d just see me as being annoying or a burden.
I would think… What would people think if I told them that I have a hard time going anywhere or doing anything because I’m always fearing that I’m going to have a panic attack? What would people think if I told them that I’m constantly thinking that I’m on the verge of needing to go to the hospital? What would people think if I told them that I spend a lot of my time mapping out exit strategies, worrying about losing all control, and dying, and trying to convince myself that I’m not going crazy?
And where I always landed was that there was no way that I was sharing any of it because people wouldn’t want anything to do with me if they knew what went on in my mind. Because in my mind, I was weird, broken, weak, incapable, a burden, and annoying, and the list goes on.
But my reality… My reality was that I was facing hard stuff every day and if people knew what I was going through, they would think that I was incredible (more incredible than they already thought I was).
Trust me, I understand not wanting to share your anxious thoughts, fears, and experiences… But holding these things in is only giving them more power. These things don’t define you, so don’t give them power. Don’t allow them to dictate your journey. The people in your life want to support you. And it’s an honor for them to support you!
5. I would've Said Goodbye To Alcohol!
I never had a healthy relationship with alcohol. But back when I was struggling, I wasn’t willing to see this. I would often convince myself that I had a healthy relationship with alcohol which was so far from the truth!
I used alcohol for so many different reasons, and none of them were healthy reasons! I used alcohol in an attempt not to feel anxious. I used alcohol in an attempt to make me feel less awkward and uncomfortable in social situations. I used alcohol in an attempt to escape from feelings and pain. I used alcohol in an attempt to relieve stress. And honestly, I could go on but I’ll spare you.
Sure, I enjoyed the taste of alcohol on some level, but that was never the reason why I consumed it (although I often said it was the reason).
My reality was that alcohol caused and increased my anxious thoughts, panic, and anxiety symptoms. It made me less me (me without alcohol is truly the best version of me). It prevented me from healing and growing. It prevented me from having healthy relationships. And it altered my moods and often made me depressed.
And when I finally said goodbye to it, there were so many amazing benefits! I was able to acknowledge and process my emotions rather than allowing them to consume me. I was able to work through stress and anxious moments in healthy ways. I was able to have healthy relationships, including the one with myself! I have more energy. I sleep better. And hangovers, I haven’t had one of those in over 5 years!
And full transparency, I do have an occasional drink like at a wedding or at an event. But when I do, it’s a half glass of wine or one yummy spicy margarita. And it’s never in an attempt to run or hide from anything!
If any of this has resonated with you, it’ll likely be helpful for you to evaluate your current relationship with alcohol without judgment. And whatever your current relationship with alcohol is, it’s okay if you acknowledge that it isn’t healthy, this is something that you have the power to change. In fact, all of these things that I shared with you are things that you have the power to change.
I hope that what I’ve shared today has been helpful to you. And if one, or all of these things resonated with you, remember to always start small. Pick one of these things and start taking small, healthy steps.
And as always, keep taking healthy action!